Review: Imperial War Museum Duxford is a day out on a grand scale

Matilda Dodd, 4, gets hands on with the exhibits

Matilda Dodd, 4, gets hands on with the exhibits - Credit: Archant

I had fears we were a little too keen in taking our three small children to the Imperial War Museum Duxford. I knew my husband and I would enjoy it - although we hadn’t visited since our childhood - but I feared that planes and tanks would be lost on tiny attention spans.

The American Air Museum at IWM Duxford

The American Air Museum at IWM Duxford - Credit: Archant

How wrong could I be. The scale of Duxford is truly impressive. It’s even more impressive for four and two-year-olds barely three feet off the floor. From the size of the attraction, to the immense hangars which house impressive machines - it is a museum on a grand scale.

The museum, which is billed as being Britain’s best-preserved Second World War fighter station, is just over an hour from Ipswich, on the M11 near Cambridge. It began life as an airfield during the latter stages of the First World War.

It then went on to play a vital role during the Second World War, firstly as an RAF fighter station during the Battle of Britain and later as a United States Army Air Force fighter base. It also hosts outstanding aviation displays throughout the year. During our visit, on a routine Sunday in October, there was a stream of historic aircraft, which you can book a flight in, doing laps of the skies. This in itself was thrilling for the little ones to stand and marvel at.

The site is laid out over six hectares with indoor and outdoor displays - so plenty of room for the children to let off steam and oodles of space to absorb any crowds. It is also weather resistant, with ample shelter and indoor exhibits.

The Historic Duxford Exhibition at IWM Duxford

The Historic Duxford Exhibition at IWM Duxford - Credit: Archant

There are eight different hangars and exhibition spaces which house a collection of tanks, military vehicles and aircraft throughout the ages - including iconic Spitfires and Concorde, which is open to explore.

The American Air Museum in hangar 7 is particularly awesome in scale. It stands as a memorial to the 30,000 American airmen who gave their lives flying from UK bases during the Second World War, with a poignant glass tribute outside. It also honours those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Iraq and other conflicts of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

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Some of the US historic military aircraft include a vintage B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, P-47 Thunderbolt, and aircraft from the Cold War era such as a B-52 Stratofortress, SR-71 Blackbird and F-4 Phantom. Regardless of your aviation knowledge, this hangar certainly has the wow factor. Another hangar which is without doubt worthy of a special mention was the Battle of Britain. This can be found in hangar 4 and was actually in use during the summer of 1940. Inside you’ll find machines involved in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, like the legendary Spitfire and Hurricane. It doesn’t have the grandeur of the American display, but has a very touching reality of what life must have been like caring for these aircraft during the war. It is a very humbling exhibition.

Duxford offers a great deal for each visitor – whatever your age or interest. We spent a very happy day there, which is no mean feat when picky children are involved. We’re planning a return visit in the spring with the grandparents.

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